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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Flavius Magnus Aurelius Cassiodorus Senator (c. 485 - c. 585), commonly known as Cassiodorus, was a Roman statesman and writer, serving in the administration of Theodoric the Great, king of the Ostrogoths. Senator was part of his surname not his rank.



Cassiodorus was born at Scylletium, near Catanzaro in southern Italy. He began his career as councillor to his father, the governor of Sicily, and made a name for himself while still very young as learned in the law. During his working life, as quaestor c. 507-511, as a consul in 514, then as magister officiorum under Theodoric, then under the regency for Theodoric's young successor, Athalaric, Cassiodorus kept copious records and letterbooks concerning public affairs. At the Gothic court, his literary skill that seems so mannered and rhetorical to a modern reader was accounted so remarkable that, whenever he was in Ravenna, significant public documents were often entrusted to him for drafting. His culminating appointment was as praetorian prefect for Italy, effectively the prime ministership of the Ostrogothic civil government and a high honor to finish any career. Cassiodorus also collaborated with Pope Agapetus I in establishing a library of Greek and Latin texts, which were intended to support a Christian school in Rome.

James O'Donnell notes:

"it is almost indisputable that he accepted advancement in 523 as the immediate successor of Boethius, who was then falling from grace after less than a year as magister officiorum, and who was sent to prison and later executed. In addition, Boethius' father-in-law (and step-father) Symmachus, by this time a distinguished elder statesman, followed Boethius to the block within a year. All this was a result of the worsening split between the ancient senatorial aristocracy centered in Rome and the adherents of Gothic rule at Ravenna. But to read Cassiodorus' Variae one would never suspect such goings-on."

There is no mention in Cassiodorus' selection of official correspondence of the death of Boethius.

Athalaric died in early 534, and the remainder of Cassiodorus' public career was engulfed by the Byzantine reconquest and dynastic intrigue among the Ostrogoths. His last letters were drafted in the name of Witigis. Cassiodorus' successor was appointed from Constantinople.

Around 537-38, he left Italy for Constantinople where he remained almost two decades, concentrating on religious questions. He noticeably met Junilius, the quaestor of Justinian. His Constantinopolitan journey contributed to the improvement of his religious knowledge.

He spent his career trying to bridge the cultural divides that were causing fragmentation in the 6th century between East and West, Greek culture and Latin, Roman and Goth, and Catholic people with their Arian ruler. He speaks fondly in his Institutiones of Dionysius Exiguus, the calculator of the Anno Domini era.

In his retirement he founded the monastery of Vivarium on his family estates on the shores of the Ionian Sea, and his writings turned to religion.

Monastery at Vivarium

Vivarium was composed of two main buildings; a coenobitic monastery and a retreat, on the site of the modern Santa Maria de Vetere, for those who desired a more solitary life. The twin structure of the Vivarium was to permit coenobitic monks and hermits to coexist. Vivarium appears not to have been governed by a strict monastic rule, such as that of the Benedictine Order. Rather Cassiodorus' Institutiones was written to guide the monks' studies. To this end, Institutiones focusses largely on texts assumed to have been available in Vivarium's library. The first section of the Institutiones deals with Christian texts, and was intended to be used in combination with the Exposito Psalmorum. The second book deals with the liberal arts and suggests a number of Greek and Latin texts, and to further such studies a scriptorium for copying and translation was established at Vivarium. While he encouraged study of secular subjects, Cassiodorus clearly considered them useful primarily as aids to the study of divinity, much in the same manner as St. Augustine. Nonetheless, he did contribute to the preservation and transmission of Greek scientific knowledge. In the end, however, the library at Vivarium was dispersed and lost, though it was still active ca. 630, when the monks brought the relics of Saint Agathius from Constantinople, to whom they dedicated a spring-fed fountain shrine that still exists.[1]


  • Laudes (very fragmentary published panegyrics on public occasions)
  • Chronica, (ending at 519) uniting all world history in one sequence of rulers, a union of Goth and Roman antecedents, flattering Goth sensibilities as the sequence neared the date of composition
  • Gothic History (526-533), survives only in Jordanes' abridgment, which must be considered a separate work
  • Variae epistolae (537), Theodoric's state papers. Editio princeps by M. Accurius (1533). English translations by Thomas Hodgkin The Letters of Cassiodorus (1886); S.J.B. Barnish Cassiodorus: Variae (Liverpool: University Press, 1992) ISBN 0-85323-436-1
  • Expositio psalmorum (Exposition of the Psalms)
  • De anima ("On the Soul") (540)
  • Institutiones Divinarum et Saecularium Litterarum (543-555)
  • De Artibus ac Disciplinis Liberalium Litterarum ("On the Liberal Arts")
  • Codex Grandior (a version of the Bible)


  • Institutions of divine and secular learning and On the soul, Liverpool: Liverpool University Press 2004. Translated with notes by James W. Halporn and introduction by Mark Vessey
  1. ^ Select Abstracts
  • James J. O'Donnell (1979). Cassiodorus (Berkeley: University of California Press,). On-line e-text.
  • James J. O'Donnell, Cassiodorus Univeristy of California Press, Berkely, CA, 1969.

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Preceded by
Flavius Probus,
Flavius Taurus Clementinus Armonius Clementinus
Consul of the Roman Empire
Succeeded by
Flavius Florentius,
Flavius Procopius Anthemius


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Flavius Magnus Aurelius Cassiodorus Senator (c. 490585) was a Roman statesman and writer. He acted as magister officiorum to Theodoric the Great, King of the Ostrogoths, and praetorian prefect to several of his successors, but retired to one of his own monastic foundations to devote the rest of his life to prayer and the dissemination of learning.




Latin quotations are cited from online texts of Cassiodorus at The Latin Library. Unless otherwise stated, English quotations are cited from S. J. B. Barnish (trans.) The Variae of Magnus Aurelius Cassiodorus Senator {Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1992), to which page-numbers also refer.

  • Haec enim quae appellatur arithmetica inter ambigua mundi certissima ratione consistit, quam cum caelestibus aequaliter novimus: evidens ordo, pulchra dispositio, cognitio simplex, immobilis scientia, quae et superna continet et terrena custodit. quid est enim quod aut mensuram non habeat aut pondus excedat? omnia complectitur, cuncta moderatur et universa hinc pulchritudinem capiunt, quia sub modo ipsius esse noscuntur.
    • For, among the world's incertitudes, this thing called arithmetic is established by a sure reasoning that we comprehend as we do the heavenly bodies. It is an intelligible pattern, a beautiful system, that both binds the heavens and preserves the earth. For is there anything that lacks measure, or transcends weight? It includes all, it rules all, and all things have their beauty because they are perceived under its standard.
    • Bk. 1, no. 10; p. 12.
  • Mores autem graves in spectaculis quis requirat? ad circum nesciunt convenire Catones. quicquid illic a gaudenti populo dicitur, iniuria non putatur. locus est qui defendit excessum. quorum garrulitas si patienter accipitur, ipsos quoque principes ornare monstratur.
    • But who looks for serious conduct at the public shows? A Cato never goes to the circus. Anything said there by the people as they celebrate should be deemed no injury. It is a place that protects excesses. Patient acceptance of their chatter is a proven glory of princes themselves.
    • Bk. 1, no. 27; p. 19.
  • Quid enim illa praestantius, quae caeli machinam sonora dulcedine modulatur et naturae convenientiam ubique dispersam virtutis suae gratia comprehendit?
    • For what is more glorious than music, which modulates the heavenly system with its sonorous sweetness, and binds together with its virtue the concord of nature which is scattered everywhere?
    • Bk. 2, no. 40; p. 38.
  • Paucos enim ratio capit, raros probabilis oblectat intentio: ad illud potius turba ducitur, quod ad remissionem curarum constat inventum. nam quicquid aestimat voluptuosum, hoe et ad beatitudinem temporum iudicat applicandum. quapropter largiamur expensas, non semper ex iudicio demus. expedit interdum desipere, ut populi possimus desiderata gaudia continere.
  • Few men are controlled by reason, and few are pleased by a right purpose. The mob, rather, is led to what was plainly invented for oblivion of its cares. For it supposes that whatever serves its pleasure must also be linked to the happiness of the age. Therefore, let us grant the expenses, and not be forever giving from rational considerations. Sometimes it is useful to play the fool, and so control the joys the people long for.
    • Bk. 3, no. 51; pp. 70-71.
  • Mater criminum necessitas tollitur.
    • Poverty is the mother of crime.
    • Bk. 9, no. 13; translation from S. Giora Shoham and Gill Sher (eds.) The Many Faces of Crime and Deviance (White Plains, N.Y.: Sheridan House, 1983) p. 32.
  • Prima enim grammaticorum schola est fundamentum pulcherrimum litterarum, mater gloriosa facundiae.
    • For the school of grammar has primacy: it is the fairest foundation of learning, the glorious mother of eloquence.
    • Bk. 9, no. 21; p. 122.
  • Grammatica magistra verborum, ornatrix humani generis, quae per exercitationem pulcherrimae lectionis antiquorum nos cognoscitur iuvare consiliis. hac non utuntur barbari reges: apud legales dominos manere cognoscitur singularis. arma enim et reliqua gentes habent: sola reperitur eloquentia, quae Romanorum dominis obsecundat.
    • Grammar is the mistress of words, the embellisher of the human race; through the practice of the noble reading of ancient authors, she helps us, we know, by her counsels. The barbarian kings do not use her; as is well known, she remains unique to lawful rulers. For the tribes possess arms and the rest; rhetoric is found in sole obedience to the lords of the Romans.
    • Bk. 9, no. 21; p. 122.


  • The great merit of Cassiodorus, that which shows his deep insight into the needs of his age and entitles him to the eternal gratitude of Europe, was his determination to utilise the vast leisure of the convent for the preservation of Divine and human learning and for its transmission to after ages.
    • Thomas Hodgkin The Letters of Cassiodorus (London: H. Frowde, 1886) p. 57
  • That long-lived ex-Quaestor of Theodoric the Ostrogoth – he died in 583 – if a supple and servile politician, was the greatest single contributor to the preservation of learning in the barbarized West…But for him and the learned turn he gave to Benedictine labours it is possible that no Latin classic, save Virgil, would have reached us complete.
    • C. W. Previté-Orton The Shorter Cambridge Medieval History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1953) vol. 1, pp. 286-7.
  • The men who ushered in the Dark Ages were men like Theodoric and Cassiodorus, who were intent on restoring the cities, preserving the statues, and transcribing the classics. Their adoration of the ancient world was matched only by their inability to understand it, for by the time that they were born, classical culture was already dead. They were the first of the great medievals and began to build a new civilization in an attempt to restore the old.
    • R. H. C. Davis A History of Medieval Europe from Constantine to Saint Louis (London: Longman, 1970) p. 53.

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1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

CASSIODORUS (not Cassiodorius), the name of a Syrian family settled at Scyllacium (Squillace) in Bruttii, where it held an influential position in the 5th century A.D. Its most important member was Flavius Magnus Aurelius Cassiodorus Senator (c. 490-585), historian, statesman, and monk. "Senator" (not a title) is the name used by himself in his official correspondence. His father held the offices of comes privatarum and sacrarum largitionum (controller of the emperor's private revenue and the public exchequer) under Odoacer, and subsequently attached himself to Theodoric, by whom he was appointed corrector (governor) of Bruttii and Lucania, and praefectus praetorio. The son at an early age became consiliarius (legal assessor) to his father, and (probably in 507) quaestor, an official whose chief duty at that time consisted in acting as the mouthpiece of the ruler, and drafting his despatches. In 514 he was ordinary consul, and at a later date possibly corrector of his native province. At the death of Theodoric (526) he held the office of magister officiorum (chief of the civil service). Under Athalaric he was praefectus praetorio, a post which he retained till about 540, after the triumphal entry of Belisarius into Ravenna, when he retired from public life. With the object of providing for the transmission of divine and human knowledge to later ages, and of securing it against the tide of barbarism which threatened to sweep it away, he founded two monasteries - Vivarium and Castellum - in his ancestral domains at Squillace (others identify the two monasteries). The special duty which he enjoined upon the inmates was the acquisition of knowledge, both sacred and profane, the latter, however, being subordinated to the former. He also collected and emended valuable MSS., which his monks were instructed to copy, and superintended the translation of various Greek works into Latin. He further amused himself with making scientific toys, such as sun-dials and water-clocks. As he is stated to have written one of his treatises at the age of ninety-three, he must have lived till. after 580. Whether he belonged to the Benedictine order is uncertain.

The writings of Cassiodorus evince great erudition, ingenuity and labour, but are disfigured by incorrectness and an affected artificiality, and his Latin partakes much of the corruptions of the age. His works are (I) historical and political, (2) theological and grammatical.

1. (a) Variae, the most important of all his writings, in twelve books, published in 537. They contain the decrees of Theodoric and his successors Amalasuntha, Theodahad and Witigis; the regulations of the chief offices of state; the edicts published by Cassiodorus himself when praefectus praetorio. It is the best source of our knowledge of the Ostrogothic kingdom in Italy (ed. T. Mommsen in Monumenta Germaniae Historica: Auctores Antiquissimi, xii., 1894 condensed English translation by T. Hodgkin, 1886).

(b) Chronica, written at the request of Theodoric's son-in-law Eutharic. during whose consulship (519) it was published. It is a dry and inaccurate compilation from various sources, unduly partial to the Goths (ed. T. Mommsen in Mon. Germ. Hist.: Auct. Ant. xi. t i., 1893).

p (c) Panegyrics on Gothic kings and queens (fragments ed. L. Traube in Mon. Germ. Hist.: Auct. Ant. xii.).

2. (a) De Anima, a discussion on the nature of the soul, at the conclusion of which the author deplores the quarrel between two such great peoples as the Goths and Romans. It seems to have been published with the last part of the Variae. (b) Institutiones divinarun et humanarum litterarum, an encyclopaedia of sacred and profane literature for the monks, and a sketch of the seven liberal arts. It further contains instructions for using the library, and precepts for daily life.

(c) A commentary on the Psalms and short notes (complexiones) on the Pauline epistles, the Acts, and the Apocalypse.

(d) De Orthographia, a compilation made by the author in his ninety-third year from the works of twelve grammarians, ending with his contemporary Priscian (ed. H. Keil, Grammatici Latini, vii.).

The Latin translations of the Antiquities of Josephus and of the ecclesiastical histories of Theodoret, Sozomen and Socrates, under the title of Historia Tripartita (embracing the years 3 06 -439), were carried out under his supervision.

Of his lost works the most important was the Historia Gothorum, written with the object of glorifying the Gothic royal house and proving that the Goths and Romans had long been connected by ties of friendship. It was published during the reign of Athalaric, and appears to have brought the history down to the death of Theodoric. His chief authority for Gothic history and legend was Ablavius (Ablabius). The work is only known to us in the meagre abridgment of Jordanes (ed. T. Mommsen, 1882).

Complete Works.- Editio princeps, by G. Fornerius (Paris, 1579); J. Garet (Rouen, 1679; Venice, 1729), reprinted in J. P. Migne, Patrologia Latina, lxix., lxx. On Cassiodorus generally, see Anecdoton Holderi, excerpts from a treatise of Cassiodorus, edited by H. Usener (Bonn, 1877),which throws light on questions connected with his biography; T. Mommseri, preface to his edition of the Variae; monographs by A. Thorbecke (Heidelberg, 1867) and A. Franz (Breslau, 1872) T. Hodgkin, Italy and her Invaders, iii. p. 280, iv. p. 348; A. Ebert, Allgemeine Geschichte der Litteratur des Mittelalters, i.; Teuffel-Schwabe, Hist. of Roman Literature (Eng. trans.), § 483; G. A. Simcox, Hist. of Latin Literature (1884); W. Ramsay in Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography; J. B. Bury's edition of Gibbon's Decline and Fall, iv. 180, 522; R. W. Church in the Church Quarterly Review, x. (1880); J. E. Sandys in Hist. of Classical Scholarship (2nd ed., 1906); A. 011eris, Cassiodore, conservateur des livres de l'antiquite latine (Paris, 1891); G. Minasi, M. A. Cassiodoro. .. ricerche storico-critiche (Naples, 1895); and C. Cipolla in Memorie della r. Accademia delle scienze di Torino (2nd ser. xliii. pt. 2, 1893); L. M. Hartmann in PaulyWissowa's Realencyclopddie, iii. pt. 2 (1899), with note on the musical section of Cassiodorus' Institutiones by C. von Jan.

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